One of the central challenges facing the regenerative medicine industry today is developing the workforce necessary to produce and commercialize advanced therapies and engineered tissues. The industry needs a well-trained workforce to grow; however, it is difficult to develop a workforce for an emerging industry which has yet to achieve the scale necessary to employ large numbers of new graduates.
This challenge was the focus of last week’s Education and Workforce Development Summit held in Tampa, FL. The event was organized by the University of Florida and sponsored by the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI). It brought together representatives of education and training institutions covering K-12, community college, and undergraduate and graduate education, as well as military veterans and industry representatives from around the country with the aim of developing a shared vision regarding workforce development.
Akron participated on the industry panel, discussing critical needs in this rapidly evolving space. Among the needs outlined were expertise in good manufacturing practices (GMP), aseptic technique, cell culture, 3D printing, and regulatory compliance. Moreover, the panel highlighted the need to bolster digital literacy. Given the trend towards greater process automation and electronic documentation, students in community college and university programs need to be trained in a way that enables a seamless transition into industry.
These needs are currently being met by a number of programs around the country. Strong biomanufacturing training programs have been developed by a number of organizations around the country. Among them are Biotility at the University of Florida, which develops and provides training programs in collaboration with industry partners in Northern Florida, and Grand Bay Community College in New Hampshire, which offers a range of bioengineering courses and certificates.
However, the question is how to sustain and scale these effective models. It is difficult for community colleges to provide hands-on training, as equipment and consumables are expensive. Furthermore, community colleges serve the regions in which they are situated, meaning that programs are often tailored to local employers’ needs. This makes some of their elements more difficult to apply elsewhere. However, the group agreed that there are a common set of skills that all industry players require.
Moving forward, it will be important to learn from effective models, develop common curricula where feasible and desirable, and support the diffusion of training programs throughout the country. Among the many groups that might benefit from these programs are military veterans, whose experience may allow them to pursue careers in this exciting space. Veterans may not be aware of opportunities in regenerative medicine, making it important to raise awareness and create partnerships with agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs.
What is clear is that the resources exist. It is a matter of bringing them together. The ARMI-sponsored Education and Workforce Development Summit provided an excellent forum through which to begin discussing how to most effectively drive workforce training for the regenerative medicine industry. Akron will continue working with its local community colleges and universities to develop talent, and collaborating with education and training institutions around the country to ensure that we as an industry have the skills necessary to realize the promise of regenerative medicine.